These two stamps were issued together in 1959 to commemorate the launch of Luna 1, which was intended to hit the Moon but in fact missed by about 6,000 km due to a guidance error and ended up in orbit around the Sun.
The first of the pair, in pink and brown, shows Luna 1’s flight path from Earth past the Moon. The labelling indicates the trajectory of the rocket, the orbit of the Moon, and the positions of the Moon at time of launch and closest approach. The launch date, 2 January 1959, is given at the top.
The second stamp, in two shades of blue, shows the Earth with ground tracks of Luna 1 over a period of three days following its launch – the spacecraft would have seemed to move across the sky from east to west as the Earth rotated. The launch site (Baikonur) is not accurately indicated as its location was still secret at the time. On January 3 a cloud of sodium was emitted from the rocket’s upper stage as a tracking aid, indicated by the star shape (labelled ‘artificial comet’ in Russian) at the end of the first arrow. The probe passed the Moon on January 4; this is the second date shown, with a small crescent Moon symbol next to it. Tracking continued until January 5, the last date shown, by when the probe was 600,000 km from Earth.
Credit: Thanks to Bob Christy of the Zarya site for help with translations and technical information.
Stanley Gibbons catalogue numbers: